If asked the most common mistake people make when feeding their dogs a homemade diet, I’d have to say that it’s not adding calcium. This error is not only common, it’s also dangerous, especially for puppies, but for adult dogs as well when too little calcium is given long term. Giving an inappropriate amount of calcium (either too much or too little) can cause orthopedic problems in growing puppies, especially large-breed puppies during the first six months when they are growing the fastest. But giving too little calcium can lead to bone disease and more in adult dogs, too.
It’s not surprising to me that many people do not realize the importance of adding calcium when feeding a homemade diet. Most of the homemade diet recipes I’ve seen online make no mention of added calcium. I reviewed more than 30 books on homemade diets for WDJ some years ago.1 Of the 24 books I reviewed that were not exclusively about feeding a raw diet that includes bones, only 10 included adequate calcium guidelines!
Why Calcium is Important in Dog Nutrition
I’m aware that some people who feed home-prepared diets rely on annual blood tests to indicate whether their dogs are receiving enough calcium; they think that if their dogs’ blood calcium levels are normal, the dogs must be getting the right amount of calcium in their diet. Unfortunately, this is not true.
For both dogs and humans, the body must keep calcium levels in the blood within a specific range to prevent serious health issues, including loss of muscle control, seizures, and even death. Adult dogs are able to control their blood calcium levels by absorbing a greater or lesser percentage of dietary calcium, depending on the amount fed, though this can be impacted by the amount of vitamin D in the diet as well, as vitamin D promotes calcium absorption. Note that puppies do not have the ability to control their absorption of calcium before puberty, and thus can suffer the negative effects of too little or too much calcium and vitamin D very quickly.
Dogs (and humans) also control their blood calcium levels by storing calcium in bones, then drawing it back out when needed – when they aren’t getting enough calcium in their diet. When adult dogs are given too little calcium for long periods (like months), they develop a condition called nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. In this situation, the body produces excess parathyroid hormone to draw needed calcium from their bones, which can also result in elevated levels of phosphorus in the blood.
Parathyroid hormone is completely different from thyroid hormones; the name is given because the parathyroid glands are located adjacent to the thyroid glands. Parathyroid hormones are responsible for regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood. Hyperparathyroidism (too much parathyroid hormone) can also be caused by a tumor on one of the parathyroid glands (primary hyperparathyroidism) or by advanced kidney disease (renal secondary hyperparathyroidism). Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism is usually linked to a deficiency of calcium, sometimes combined with too little vitamin D.
When the body produces too much parathyroid hormone, it causes demineralization of the bones, which may result in lameness, bone pain, swelling, stiffness or limping, not wanting to move, and even spontaneous fractures. Adult dogs may develop spinal deformities, loose teeth, or neurological signs. Puppies are more likely to develop deformities in their legs and joints that may leave them unable to walk normally. If the condition is not corrected quickly, it could lead to long-term orthopedic disorders.
Now that I have scared the pants off you about providing the right amount of calcium in your dog’s homemade diet – at least, I hope I did! – what kind of calcium should you add, and how much is the right amount?
When You DON’T Need to Add Calcium to Your Dog’s Food
Never add calcium to commercial diets that are “complete and balanced” – these already contain the right amount of calcium! Adding calcium to a “complete and balanced” diet would be particularly dangerous for large-breed puppies.
However, most homemade diets require added calcium with a few notable exceptions. DO NOT add calcium to a home-prepared diet if:
- You feed a raw diet that includes raw meaty bones (RMBs) — parts such as chicken and turkey necks where the bone is fully consumed. Bones are high in calcium and phosphorus; there’s no need to add calcium to a diet that includes at least 25 to 30 percent RMBs.
- You use a supplement that is especially designed to complete and balance a homemade diet, such as those made by Balance IT and Just Food For Dogs.
- You use a dog food “base mix,” such as those made by The Honest Kitchen and Sojo’s, that you combine with your own added protein source according to the product directions.
When using supplements or base mixes that promise to complete a homemade diet, make certain that the product includes a complete nutritional analysis showing appropriate amounts of calcium. Don’t accept the verbal assurances of the company’s owners or representatives, or those of pet food store employees; if they can’t or won’t provide you with complete nutritional analyses of their products, we would not rely on those products for anything more than an occasional meal.
Following Calcium Guidelines
With very few exceptions (see “When You Don’t Need to Add Calcium,” above), you need to add calcium to your dog’s homemade diet.
Calcium guidelines can be determined in several different ways, including the body weight of the dog, the dry matter percentage of the food, and the calories that the dog needs. Each has its own complications:
- Small dogs eat more and have higher nutritional needs for their weight than large dogs do, so you can’t use linear guidelines such as “give x amount per 10 pounds of body weight.” Any time you see linear feeding instructions, it’s a red flag that whoever is giving the instructions does not understand nutrition.
- The amount of moisture (water) in food can vary from about 10 percent or less in dry foods (kibble, dehydrated, freeze-dried) to 80 per percent or more in wet foods (canned, fresh, frozen, raw, cooked). You must convert the “as fed” food weight to dry matter (DM) in order to give guidelines based on how much food is fed. Dry matter percentages won’t change much when you convert from “as fed” for dry foods, but are usually three to five times as much as the “as fed” percentage for wet foods. Also, because we feed dogs less of high-fat, calorie-dense foods, adjustments need to be made for foods with more than 4,000 kcal/kg DM.
- Calculating nutritional requirements based on the number of calories your dog needs is the simplest method, but comes with some warnings as well. Caloric needs will vary based on your dog’s activity level, metabolism, and more. The right amount to feed will also be affected by how many calories your dog gets from treats, chews, leftovers, and other sources. In particular, inactive dogs who eat less food for their weight than would be expected should get most of their calories from a balanced diet in order to avoid nutritional deficiencies.
The National Research Council (NRC) issued updated nutritional guidelines for dogs in 2006. They recommend feeding adult dogs at least 1 mg of calcium per Calorie (kcal), which is the same as 1 gram (1,000 mg) per 1,000 kcal (Mcal).
The nutritional guidelines published by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which were finally modified in 2016 to reflect the latest NRC recommendations, increased this to 1.25 mg calcium/kcal (1.25 grams/Mcal).
On a dry matter basis, that’s 4 to 5 grams of calcium per kilogram of food on a dry matter basis, or 0.4 to 0.5 percent DM.
One other factor affects how much calcium your dog needs: phosphorus. There should always be at least as much calcium as phosphorus in the diet, up to twice as much for healthy dogs (or three times as much for dogs with kidney disease).
Most homemade diets that I’ve looked at have between 0.5 and 1.25 mg phosphorus per kcal, so giving 1.25 mg calcium per kcal will provide most dogs with an appropriate amount of calcium and a proper calcium:phosphorus ratio.
You will need to know how many calories your dog is likely to need, based on his ideal weight – not his actual weight. See Table I on the next page for the approximate amounts of calcium to add to homemade diets for dogs of various sizes and various activity levels in order to provide 1.25 mg of calcium per kcal. While nutrient needs don’t vary by activity level, dogs who eat more food need more calcium in order to balance out the amount of phosphorus in the diet.
At minimum, give the lowest amount of calcium shown for your dog’s ideal weight, even if you find that you need to feed fewer calories than shown to keep your dog at a proper, lean weight. If you must feed a lot less to help your dog lose weight or prevent your dog from gaining unwanted weight, it’s time to cut back on the number of calories your dog gets from other sources.
The amount of calcium you give does not need to be exact. It’s fine to give a little less or a little more calcium than shown. Most commercial diets for adult dogs that I’ve looked at have between 2 and 3 mg of calcium per kcal (diets designed for puppies or for “all life stages” will have even more). These diets also have an equivalently higher amount of phosphorus.
If you feed a diet that is part commercial, part homemade, adjust the calcium amounts shown in Table I appropriately. For example, if you feed half homemade, give half the amount of calcium shown.
Calcium for Puppies is Trickier
All of these guidelines are for adult dogs only. Puppies are trickier. NRC and AAFCO agree that puppies need at least 3 mg of calcium per Calorie (three times the amount of calcium that adult dogs need on a caloric basis).
The maximum amount of calcium that puppies should get is 4.5 mg per kcal (4.5 g/Mcal). It’s especially important not to give too much calcium to large-breed puppies during their first six months, as they are the group most likely to develop bone and joint abnormalities when given the wrong amount of calcium and phosphorus.
Puppies also need more phosphorus than adult dogs do. Never add plain calcium to a puppy’s homemade diet. Puppies need bone meal or some other type of supplement that provides both calcium and phosphorus, in order to provide the correct amount and ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
What Form of Calcium Should You Give Your Dog?
There are many forms of calcium that can be added to your home-prepared diet to meet your dog’s requirements. Any form of plain calcium, without other ingredients such as vitamin D, is fine. Dogs do need vitamin D, but since dogs need more calcium but not more vitamin D than people do, the amount of vitamin D that you would end up giving when using a combination product would be too high.
Calcium carbonate is usually the cheapest and the easiest to give, as it has more elemental calcium than most other calcium compounds, so you will need to add less powder to the food.
One easy way to provide calcium is to use eggshells that have been washed, dried, and ground to powder in a clean coffee grinder or blender. One large eggshell will make about one level teaspoon of eggshell powder weighing 5.5 grams; this will provide approximately 2,000 mg calcium:
1/8 teaspoon eggshell powder provides about 250 mg calcium
1/4 tsp = 500 mg
3⁄8 tsp = 750 mg
1/2 tsp = 1,000 mg
5/8 tsp = 1,250 mg
3/4 tsp = 1,500 mg
7⁄8 tsp = 1,750 mg
1 tsp = 2,000 mg
Some people like to give their dogs whole eggs with the shell, but I don’t think that’s a good way to ensure that your dog gets the right amount of calcium. The calcium in eggshells that have not been ground to powder may not be absorbed, particularly if you notice any bits of shell in your dog’s stool. If it is absorbed, you may end up giving too much calcium, especially to smaller dogs.
It’s okay to give a dog a whole egg, including the shell, as a treat on occasion, but when using eggshells to provide dietary calcium needed to balance out a homemade diet, it’s safest to grind the shells to a powder.
If you use a calcium supplement that also includes phosphorus, such as bone meal powder or dicalcium phosphate, you will have to give more calcium than if you use a plain calcium supplement in order to keep the calcium:phosphorus ratio in the proper range. To determine how much to give, you must first subtract the amount of phosphorus from the amount of calcium, then use the remaining amount of “extra” calcium to calculate how much to give based on Table I.
For example, if the bone meal supplement you’re using has 800 mg calcium and 300 mg phosphorus per teaspoon, there’s 500 mg “extra” calcium to use to calculate how much to give. If your dog needs 1,000 mg calcium added to his diet based on Table I, you would need to give two teaspoons of bone meal powder (500 mg extra calcium per teaspoon) in order to provide an appropriate amount of calcium while ensuring that the calcium:phosphorus ratio remains in the proper range.
Note that bone meal products designed for humans may not tell you the actual amount of calcium and phosphorus they provide, but will instead give you percentages of daily recommended values for adults.
For example, NOW Foods Bone Meal Powder says that 1 level teaspoon provides 80 percent of the recommended daily amount (RDA) for calcium, and 30 percent of the RDA for phosphorus. The RDA for both calcium and phosphorus for humans has been 1,000 mg (1 gram), so 80 percent would be 800 mg and 30 percent would be 300 mg.
This calculation will soon become more complicated, however, as the FDA recently increased these recommended amounts to 1,300 mg calcium and 1,250 mg phosphorus. New labels must reflect this change by July 2020. If NOW Foods does not change their formulation, the same product would now show that it provides 62 percent RDA for calcium and 24 percent RDA for phosphorus.
Many bone meal products provide about twice as much calcium as phosphorus. In this case, you can just double the calcium recommendations shown in Table I to determine how much to give.
If you use bone meal powder to provide calcium, look for brands that have been tested to show that they contain low levels of lead. Never use bone meal products intended for fertilizer.
Dolomite is another type of calcium supplement that may contain unacceptably high levels of lead.
Plant-based calcium supplements show considerable variety in the amount of lead they may contain; contact the company to ask for test results before using one of these supplements on a daily basis.
Again, these guidelines are only for dogs who are fed a homemade diet that lacks an adequate source of calcium, such as raw meaty bones or a supplement designed to balance a homemade diet. There’s a lot more to feeding a homemade diet that we’ll try to address in future articles, but getting the calcium right is a big step in the right direction of feeding a complete and balanced diet.
Mary Straus is the owner of DogAware.com. She and her mixed-breed, Willow, live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Now my head is spinning! Very timely as I have recently began making a home prepared meal in the evenings. My 13# active 9-yo spayed female gets about 5 oz. food (2 oz. pureed veg, 3 oz. meat ), so I’ve been giving. 1/4 tsp. sterilized ground organic eggshell. Hope someone will jump in if this calculation is inadequate!
1/4 tsp eggshell powder provides approximately 500 mg calcium. That amount is adequate to meet NRC guidelines for a 13# dog and enough to balance out calcium and phosphorus for the amount of food fed, so you should be fine. Remember that the best homemade diets include red meat, poultry, fish, liver, eggs, dairy, vegetables and fruits, with grains and legumes optional, so if you’re missing any of those foods, you will need to give other supplements as well. You can read more in my article entitled Dishing on Diets in the September 2013 issue, also available on this site.
Oky maine aa skta hu 😍
For the proper development of pup’s bones and teeth , calcium is an essential mineral in food for puppies. Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium. Can possibly include yogurt and milk with banana shake in puppy diet it will also helps to gain weight if you want to keep your dog vegan.
Coral, you could not feed enough yogurt (or other milk products) to even begin to provide all the calcium a puppy needs, and milk will make many dogs sick due to lactose intolerance. (And since when are milk and yogurt vegan??) Puppies in particular can be harmed by not getting appropriate amounts of calcium.
I have fed my dogs a cooked diet going back 15 years. I have read a lot, had sessions with a vet who specialized In dog nutrition, and read Lew Olsen’s books and monthly articles on canine nutrition, as well as any article I find in Whole Dog Journal. . I have not really figured out how to take wet weight and make it a dry weight to calculate. I have always added cleaned, dried, then pulverized egg shell as a calcium supplement along with Berte’s Natural’s Daily Blend for the rest of the vitamins and minerals. I have read using 1/2 tsp per pound of prepared food, split over two meals a day is a good average for adding calcium. So obviously with small dogs one might even be adding 1/8tsp per meal. This is in addition to having good variety of muscle meat, organ meat, dairy as part of the meal. Does that fit more or less with the DM amounts you recommend? This is only for adult dogs. My puppies start off with a prepared food, even a recommended puppy kibble, to make sure the everything is nutritious and I don’t know enough about puppy nutrition.
Rebecca, it sounds like you’re doing a good job. Adult dogs are much more resilient than puppies, so you can get away with broad guidelines such as what you suggest for calcium. Puppies are much more likely to be affected by incorrect amounts of calcium (either too little or too much) and also need added phosphorus rather than plain calcium, so it’s more important for them to be sure that you’re giving the right amounts. You may want to check out some other books, as Lew Olson only has experience with raw diets that include bones.
It should not be necessary to calculate dry matter amounts unless you’re trying to compare one type of food with another (especially when comparing dry foods to wet foods). I mention it above because it’s one of the ways that AAFCO states their calcium guidelines, but it’s easier to estimate calcium needs based on calories instead. When needed, you can see instructions here:
How much calcium do I give for a 12 yr old 30lb and a Chihuahua 7lbs
Janice, per the chart included with my article, a 30-lb older dog needs around 775-1,000 mg calcium daily, so 1/2 tsp eggshell powder would be fine. An adult dog weighing 7 lbs would need around 300 mg calcium, or a bit more if your dog is quite active — give a little more than 1/8 tsp eggshell powder (or just give 1/4 tsp, which will be fine).
I have an 8 week female Shorky. How much ground egg shell should she receive daily?
Sylvia, there is so much more to feeding a puppy than just the right amount of calcium. In fact, you shouldn’t use eggshell to provide calcium to puppies. Instead, they should be getting bone meal or another calcium source that also includes phosphorus, in order to meet their higher phosphorus needs as well. If you want to feed a homemade diet to a puppy, I recommend that you get one of the following books and follow their recipes for puppies:
Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, by Beth Taylor and Karen Becker
Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, by Steve Brown
Note that I do not recommend following recipes in any other books or online for puppies, as I have not found any others that are reliable.
Hi, my 47 lb smooth hair border collie eats a homemade diet and takes a vitamin supplement. The info on the supplement states guaranteed analysis per tab 3 grams. Calcium 2.8%, calcium (max)3.8%, phosphorus 2.5%. per instructions for supplemental nutrition support he takes 2 per day. Is this correct for him.
Virginia, unless a supplement is designed to balance out an incomplete homemade diet, I can guarantee that it will not do so. Most supplements made for dogs assume you are feeding a complete commercial diet. Think of it this way — if the supplement you have provided enough calcium for a dog on a homemade diet, that would be far too much for most dogs, who are already getting their calcium needs met through commercial diets.
BTW, I would also never use a supplement that provides nutritional information in this way, so that you have to do conversions to figure out how much you’re giving. In this case, 2.8%-3.8% of 3 grams is 0.084-0.114 grams, or 84-114 mg. If you’re giving two tablets per day, that comes to 168-228 mg daily. Your 47-lb dog needs at least 1,300 mg calcium daily, so this supplement is providing less than 20% of the amount needed. The same would be true for other nutrients likely to be missing in a homemade diet.
I have information on supplements and base mixes designed to balance a homemade diet, including Balance IT, here: http://dogaware.com/diet/dogfoodmixes.html
If you are cooking meat with bones (chicken) until the bones are soft and crumbly – does that affect how much calcium you need to supplement?
Jackie, if you are feeding bones then they do affect the amount of calcium that you need to supplement (if the bones are removed, then the amount of calcium needed does not change). It’s not easy to figure out how much calcium you’re giving with the bones — chicken breasts are mostly cartilage, while the larger bones in legs and thighs generally do not get soft enough to feed, so your dogs won’t be getting as much calcium from bones as they would if you fed a raw meaty bone diet. In general, I would say that any meal with a substantial amount of bone needs no additional calcium; if there’s some bone but not that much, maybe cut the calcium in half for that meal.
I have a 8wk staffie and cooking all his food I’ve done fresh minced turkey breast and fresh minced chicken with carrots sweet potatoes spinach asparagus green beans garden peas oats eggs and minced beef with the same veg mix do i need calcium i have ground egg shells and have a container full but i have not added any yet i also give him tin sardines mixed with rice and sweet potatoes once a week
Lynda, it is so hard for me to keep seeing comments like this, as my whole article is about answering your question. Yes, your pup needs calcium, but he also needs phosphorus — you must use a supplement that provides both calcium and phosphorus for puppies, such as bone meal, rather than eggshells, which provide only calcium. You also must get the amounts right or risk doing damage to your pup’s bones and joints. The younger your dog is, the faster he is growing, and so the more quickly any deficiencies or excesses will cause harm. Please put your puppy on a complete commercial diet approved for puppies or for all life stages until you have the time to design a proper diet for him. At 8 weeks, the harm you are doing by not supplementing proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus could be devastating to your dog’s health. See my book reviews for the only homemade diet books I recommend for use with puppies: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/food/a-review-of-the-best-books-on-home-prepared-dog-food-diets-on-the-market/
Mary, it is so hard for me to keep seeing comments like THIS from you! Your blog was helpful, but very long and very confusing for first-timers. We are here because we want the best for our dogs, many of us have sick dogs that we are trying our best for. If you write a blog and maintain a site like this, you have to be prepared for comments and questions. I don’t think it’s necessary for you to get such a bad and hostile attitude towards people just desperate for clarification. I was very thankful for your article but as I scrolled down in the comments, I noticed your hostility and the way you talk down to people for asking questions – not to mention you almost scold people for doing the wrong thing! If you don’t like answering questions, either just IGNORE them, turn off commenting, or don’t maintain a website like this. You need to work on your empathy a bit, we all get crabby but taking it out on innocent concerned pet owners is just the wrong way to go about it. Take a hard look at how you talk to people. It really put me off exploring the rest of your site.
Chris, Mary is trying to save your dog puppy from developing brittle bones from the proper amount of calcium phosphate. Simply giving your pup calcium is a serious mistake. If Mary is passionate, it’s because this error in your puppy’s diet will prove to be catastrophic for your pet. Also, you need thicker skin if you thought Mary’s response was insensitive. You should feel fortunate that she cares enough to try to impress you to reread the article so you can fix your grave error.
I meant IMPROPER amount of calcium phosphate.
I continue to be surprised that so many commenters, without any shame at all, expect to have personalized recommendations deliver to them on a silver platter by someone who has already gone to the time and trouble to offer an informative and helpful article, which anyone here could benefit from by actually reading the words and doing the math. This person has provided a service already. She does not owe any of us anything. Stop being lazy and read the article. If you don’t understand, read it again. Tack it up on the front of your refrigerator and read it every day if you need to. Do the calculations yourself, they are basic and not rocket science. Be an adult. How is that for condescending? My thanks to Mary for an eye-opening presentation, and I will certainly take a closer look at what I’m doing with my own dog. And I will do it with my own brain, which works.
There is a whole lot of math going on here!
It’s not a quick read. Get out your pen and paper…calculator..
put on yer thinking cap (My age is showing)
You can figure this….just not as easily as you can open a bag of dry kibble.
My 14yo 7lb poodle has kidney disease. Don’t I need to make sure the calcium supplement has no phosphorous in it?
Monica, yest, you need to use a calcium supplement that does not include phosphorus if you’re feeding a homemade diet to a dog with kidney disease. Eggshell powder does not have phosphorus. You can also get veterinary recipes from Balance IT using their newer Canine-K Plus supplement (not their original Canine-K, which includes phosphorus) with your vet’s approval.
I have two Jack Russells – a 12 year old and. 6 year old. The 6 year old was diagnosed with a mast cell tumour and since then I have been feeding both of my pups home cooked food comprising of chicken breast, liver, vegetables with little or no carbs. I make either bone broth or chicken soup which I add to their food. Could you please help me with the amount of calcium in either grams or tsps that I should add to their food. The tablets are calcium citrate 600 mg per tablet. The 12 year old male dog weighs 25 lbs and the 6 year old female weighs approx 15 lbs. I have bought a bottle of calcium citrate tablets which I will grind up in my coffee grinder (dedicated for their meds). Thank you in advance.
Zenobia, I thought my article pretty much covered your question about calcium. According to the chart I provided, the dog weighing 25 lbs would get between 675 and 1,000 mg calcium (probably toward the lower end as an older dog is likely not that active) and the dog weighing 15 lbs would get between 450 and 650 mg. You could give them both 600 mg, though the older dog would be a little short. There’s no need to use calcium citrate; calcium carbonate is usually easier to work with (comes in powder form).
The diet you are feeding is not complete and is missing many nutrients. It would be better to get a recipe from Balance IT and use one of their supplements (which will also include calcium).
To the best of my knowledge, diet doesn’t affect mast cell tumors the same way it can affect other types of tumors. Mast cell tumors should be removed if possible, as removal is often curative. If the tumor cannot be removed or has already spread, than a low histamine diet might be helpful.
I have a 63 lb 20month old female Golden Retriever, I’m not certain about how much calcium I should give her daily. I bought calcium citrate for her but can’t do the math for how much I should give her daily? I just started preparing a homemade diet for her, so I’m new to this. I don’t know how much a mg is? I know teaspoons etc. I couldn’t figure out how to weigh a mg?
Alayne, you can’t weight a milligram (mg). The label should tell you how much calcium is in the supplement you bought, but if it’s a human supplement, it may show the amount of calcium as a percentage of the human adult daily requirement, rather than an amount in mg per teaspoon, requiring a conversion.
For example, NOW Foods Calcium Citrate shows that it provides 600 mg calcium per 1.5 level teaspoons of powder (3 grams), so no conversion needed: https://www.nowfoods.com/supplements/calcium-citrate-pure-powder
However, their Bone Meal product shows that 1 level teaspoon (2.8 grams) provides 80% of the Daily Value for Calcium. For that, you need to know the Daily Value used for calcium, which is 1,000 mg, so 80% would be 800 mg calcium per teaspoon.
Note that there is more calcium in calcium carbonate, meaning you would need to give less powder when using calcium carbonate than you do when using calcium citrate. NOW Foods Calcium Carbonate powder provides 600 mg calcium per 1/2 level teaspoon (1.7 grams): https://www.nowfoods.com/supplements/calcium-carbonate-powder
Hello Mary. Many thanks for this informative and detailed article. I have one question if you have the time please. I recently started my 7 month old puppy on a raw food diet, including a mix of muscle meat (beef and chicken), RMBs (mainly chicken necks and feet, occasionally pig feet), liver, fish, eggs and mixed veggies. I’m giving her about 40-50% raw meaty bones per meal (based on research of correct percentages of bones to add for calcium requirements for adult dogs). However, having read in your article that puppies need up to 3 times the amount of calcium as an adult dog, and as she is still growing, do I need to increase that percentage of meaty bones? As per your advice in previous comment replies, I am now avoiding giving her the eggshell, and I have just ordered Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats but it may take some time to arrive (I live very remotely in Panama). Many thanks for your time.
Joanna, it’s always hard to know exactly how much calcium there is in bones, but I never recommend feeding more than 50% RMBs unless they are very meaty. Chicken necks don’t have that much meat, and chicken feet even less, so you definitely should not feed more than that. Chicken necks can also be very high in fat in skin is included. Make sure your pup is staying lean as she grows; you should probably remove some or all of the skin from the necks to help her get more nutrition (less pure fat)., especially since the rest of her diet is also pretty high in fat. If you feed too much fat to a puppy, not only do you encourage fast growth, but you also reduce the amount of nutrients that she gets since she can’t have as much other food (not fat) because of the number of calories she’s getting from fat. I consider chicken feet more of a chew than food for a meal, since they’re mostly cartilage (not much nutrition).
You don’t say what breed your puppy is or how much growing she likely has yet to do. A small-breed dog would already be close to full grown, so the amount of calcium and phosphorus wouldn’t matter as much. A large-breed dog would still have some growing to do, and a giant breed even more, but even then, she’s reached an age where she should be able to start controlling her uptake of calcium, which should help her regulate the amount she absorbs.
You don’t mention any supplements. All diets need added vitamin E, and your dog may need added vitamin D (or cod liver oil that includes vitamin D) as well. Vitamin D also increases the uptake of calcium.
Sorry I find all of this a bit complicated. I have a cocker, spayed, six years old – she gets between 1/2 and 3/4 cup of high quality kibble in the morning. In the evenings, she gets home cooked food containing as a rule lean ground turkey, green beans, carrots, organic coconut, celery – sometimes other vegetable or different meats are in the mix. She gets an egg occasionally, loves plain yogurt & cottage cheese. In addition, she gets 5 small organic dog cookies per day. How much calcium should be added to her evening meal? Her ideal weight is from 25 – 28 lbs. and she is in that range. I used the powdered egg shells for my labs, but don’t know how much to give this dog.
Liz, ideally you would calculate the number of calories that your dog is getting from the kibble in the morning in order to determine what percentage of her calories are coming from kibble, and what percentage from the homemade portion of her diet.
A dog that should weigh between 25 and 28 lbs is likely eating between 500 calories (25-lb inactive dog) and 750 calories (28-lb active pet dog) daily. I think most kibble has around 350-400 calories per cup, though this can vary considerably depending on the food’s fat and the size and shape of the kibble pieces, and whether you’re using an actual measuring cup or not.
Your dog needs at least 900 mg calcium daily. Assuming half her calories (and calcium) are coming from kibble, I would give her 500 mg calcium with her dinner. You could use 1/4 teaspoon eggshell powder, or any other form of plain calcium.
Can I usw human calcium supplements instead og egg shells ?
You can use any form of plain calcium, without other ingredients. Calcium powder made for humans is fine. Most calcium tablets or capsules made for people also contain vitamin D, and the dosage of vitamin D would be too high when giving the amount of calcium needed to balance a homemade diet, so those would not be appropriate.
My 2 yr old 16lb pup has IBS and is on a bland diet of home cooked pork and sweet potatoes how much eggshells should I give? Everything sends him into a flare so I have to add one thing at a time.
Stephanie, see the chart in my article for how much calcium to give. It will likely be around 500-600 mg, or a little more than 1/4 teaspoon eggshell powder. You can start with less to see how your dog responds. If he can’t handle eggshells, there are other forms of calcium you can try.
My understanding is that 5 month old German Shepherd puppy would need three times the amount of calcium as an adult dog. Based on your chart above am I using the projected adult weight ( like in their raw diet) or am I using the actual puppy weight they are now (I have two one girl one boy)? Also although my adult Aussies eat bones / meat percentages, my husband doesn’t feel comfortable feeding the puppies the bones so I’ve been baking them and grinding them into powder. How do I calculate out how much powder has the correct milligrams of calcium? I’ve been giving them the vitamin D in the vitamin E as well as glucosamine but have just been guesstimating on the correct calcium amount and I see that it’s extremely important to get that correct.
Rebecca, according to the NRC, puppies need three times as much calcium as adult dogs do on a caloric basis, not a body weight basis. The chart I provided is for adult dogs only and will not work for puppies.
AAFCO guidelines specify a minimum of 1.25 grams of calcium per 1,000 kcal for adult dogs. For puppies, they specify a minimum of 3 grams of calcium and a maximum of 4.5 grams of calcium per 1,000 kcal, so that’s 2.4 – 3.6 times as much calcium per calorie for puppies as for adult dogs.
You pup is probably eating about as much now as he will as an adult dog, so if you multiply the amount of calcium shown in my chart for an active adult dog of his anticipated adult body weight by 2.4, that should be in the right neighborhood.
Calculating the amount of ground bone to give in order to provide that much calcium is far more difficult, however. You would need to determine the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the bone, which will vary depending on factors such as fat and moisture. There is no way to do so accurately. Bone meal products provide you with the amounts of calcium and phosphorus on the label, but they have almost all fat and moisture removed, so your ground bone supplement would be different. I don’t know how to estimate how much calcium and phosphorus it would contain.
I am at a loss. I have 16 year old female about 17/18 pounds. They just diagnosed her with pancreatitis. And enlarged heart. after reading your articles I understand that I am not feeding her correctly along with the other three dogs. I give her about 6.6 oz in the morning and the same in the evening I’m with her being diagnosed I have been doing for meals per day since I’ve been home to the coronavirus.. I was doing 2.0 rice 2.0 chicken and the rest making up in vegetables could you please help me.. also have a 13 year old male with bladder cancer he is getting chemo he just had surgery on his bladder and last year he broke his back jumping off the sofa he didn’t use the steps and he doesn’t walk very well do to that surgery trying to keep them as healthy as we can I have very little knowledge how to prepare ratios him I give 6.7 Oz morning and night. Very confused reading different articles different sites and then I stumbled on you I would appreciate any advice you can give as we’ve been through a lot with the two seniors thank you Carol
Carol, please see my articles on pancreatitis and low-fat diets, then contact me via my website if you need additional help.
When giving your dog eggshell calcium do you count what is already in the food your are giving them and then add the rest? Are do you just not count what is already in there food. I make homemade food for her. I’m just trying to figure out the calcium thing.
Karena, in general I don’t worry about the amount of calcium in the food itself. Most foods have very little calcium. The few foods that includes significant calcium, such as canned fish with bones and some dairy products, also contain significant amounts of phosphorus, which would increase the amount of calcium needed in order to provide the proper calcium:phosphorus ratio. Net result is that you would still add the same amount of calcium to the diet. The only exception would be if you are feeding significant amounts of raw meaty bones.
Thank you! It is very useful. I need to consider carefully my dog’s diet again.
I have a 4month old german shepherd. She is 25 pounds. She takes 2tabs of nutririch per day. How much calcium does she need per day?
Ruby, that’s not an easy question to answer. To start with, I have no idea what kind of diet you’re feeding. Next, I found Nutri-Rich supplements, but there are many different kinds and I have no idea which one you’re giving, nor what it contains (the website does not provide either an ingredient list or a nutritional analysis of their products), but I can guarantee that none are designed to meet the needs of a large-breed puppy being fed an incomplete homemade diet. Third, puppies need phosphorus as well as calcium, so you need to be using a supplement such as bone meal or dicalcium phosphate, not just calcium if you’re feeding a homemade diet that does not include raw meaty bones.
Honestly, if you don’t already know the answer to your own question, you should not be feeding a large-breed puppy a homemade diet. The odds of causing orthopedic problems that may become permanent are quite high. Other nutritional deficiencies (or excesses) can also harm a growing puppy. You could follow the recipes in one of the two books I recommend, or get a recipe from a veterinary nutritionist (Balance IT doesn’t offer recipes for pups); otherwise, you should put your pup back on a complete commercial diet approved for large-breed puppies.
I’m no longer comfortable answering questions in this format. If you want to ask me a question, please contact me via email from my website (see bottom of page at http://www.dogaware.com). That allows me to provide more details and ask questions when needed. Apparently my answers don’t come across the way that I intend them to here. Please note this is not my website nor do I have any control over it. As I state on my website, I don’t have a lot of time for responding to questions, so it may be a couple of weeks, occasionally longer, before you hear back from me, but I do respond to everyone who emails me with questions about their dogs.
I’m considering using this Dicalcium phosphate supplement to my home cooked dog food recipes. It says it has 466mg Calcium to 360mg phosphate mixture which seems on the mark by all the suggested calcium/phosphate mix ratio recommendations. I like the price and the fact that’s it’s available on Amazon. Anyone see any red flags?
I make a mix using bone broth (I slow cook the bones first thing), veges such as carrots and broccoli, blueberries or apples. I cook chicken legs in the slow cooker, then cook the bones some more. I add rice or oatmeal to the liquid remaining from the chicken, then add in the chicken legs (and hearts/gizzards, cooked and chopped). I add more oats as needed to make it a thick mash, then freeze it in 1/2 cup balls. One ball is added to a good kibble twice daily and my 12-15 lb dogs get 1/2 cup twice daily. Before I added the chicken mix, they might or might not eat the kibble, but all except my 16 yr old finish every piece now. He sometimes doesn’t eat, but will eat later. Should I be adding eggshells? I plan to add some eggs in next time.
Pat, it’s impossible to know how much calcium is in the bone broth that you are making. It’s less important in your case because it sounds like your dogs are adults and are getting the majority of their calories from a complete commercial diet that is providing calcium. You could try adding some apple cider vinegar when you make the bone broth, as that will increase the amount of calcium that is leached from the bones, but as long as what you are adding is not a substantial portion of the diet, and you’re not feeding it to puppies, you should be okay without adding eggshells. If your 1/2 cup balls weigh about four ounces; you could add about 250 mg calcium (1/8 teaspoon eggshell powder) per ball. Another option might be to add fish oil that includes vitamin D, which can help with the uptake of calcium, and fish oil is good for many other things as well.
My 5 year old 6.5kg jack Russell had anal gland issues. lot of Pain when they need to be emptied. I had been raw feeding DAF completes. However the vet has told me to feed boneless as bones will aggravate her issues.
Would I be right in thinking 500mg of crushed egg shell daily would compensate for the lack of RMBs that she now doesn’t get?
Paula, I don’t know anyone who measures eggshell powder by weight rather than by volume, but based on my article, here’s what your 500 mg would provide:
One large eggshell will make about one level teaspoon of eggshell powder weighing 5.5 grams; this will provide approximately 2,000 mg calcium:
If 5.5 grams of eggshell powder provides 2,000 mg calcium, than 500 mg (0.5 grams) would provide about 181 mg calcium.
Your 6.5-kg (14.3-lb) dog needs at least 550 mg calcium daily, or about 1.5 grams (1500 mg), or three times what you propose.
Note that eggshells should be ground to powder in a clean coffee grinder or blender rather than just crushed in order to ensure that the calcium can be absorbed.
Because raw diets are generally extremely high in fat and low in fiber, you might want to try feeding a completely different type of diet to see if that helps with your dog’s anal gland issues. If so, you’ll know that it’s diet related (whereas just removing bone from the diet won’t necessarily tell you the opposite if your dog does not improve). Once you know that a different type of diet helps your dog’s anal glands, you can work on figuring out whether the issue is related to bone, too much fat, lack of fiber, or issues with specific ingredients.
Mary , I have been cooking for my baby boy for 5 years now , and according to what I had found out I have to feed 500 mg calcium to my 26 lb Bichon/shiz tzu mix, because he gets 250 gr of homemade food.I was under the impression that I had to give him 1000- to1500 mg per pound of food . Now, looking at the table you have kindly included in this article , I realized I have been giving him less than needed . Would you please help me figure this out ? He is a 10 year young dog , with moderate activity .
Nazli, it’s not clear if you’re feeding 100% homemade, but I will assume that’s the case.
A dog that weighs 26 lbs should get 830 mg calcium daily, according to NRC. If your dog eats less than most dogs his size, then he might need less calcium, but I wouldn’t go as low as 500 mg in any case.
You can’t really go by the weight of the food, since this can vary significantly depending on what is in the diet, particularly how much fat and how much moisture it contains. But if you did follow the guidelines that you names, 250 grams is 0.55 pounds, so you would give 550-825 mg calcium based on 1000-1500 mg per pound of food. If you’re also feeding some commercial food that includes calcium, then the lower amount might be correct, but otherwise I’d try to give around 800 mg daily.
I really appreciate that you took the time to read , and answer my question . I have a very good boy (aren’t them all ? ) , and I try to provide him with the best care possible . You assumed right , he is fed 100% home made . I increased the amount of calcium in his diet as soon as I read your article .I hope I didn’t cause him any harm by feeding less calcium than needed ( I used to add 500 mg ) in previous years 🙁
Thank you for providing us with the valuable information to keep our fur babies healthy !
Nazli, I’m sure your dog is okay. Adult dogs have some ability to regulate their uptake of calcium, absorbing more when there is less in the diet. While you may not have been giving the optimal amount of calcium, at least you were adding it in significant amounts, enough to prevent a deficiency. Adult dogs can handle a wider variation than puppies can.
Hello, I am a dog. It might be hard to believe, but I assure you it is true. I would prefer not to take the time right now to explain my communication abilities, but instead use this space to express my gratitude. Mary Straus, on behalf of my species and all breeds within, we can’t thank you enough for raising awareness to the importance of properly balancing our diets. Most of us can’t speak for ourselves and the ones of us that can don’t know what’s best anyway.
Hi I Had a question I have two Chow chows and have now read two articles stating that chows need more carbohydrates and less protein. That seems strange to me do you have any opinions on that?
I don’t believe there is any evidence to support the idea that Chows need more carbs and less protein than other breeds. Since most dog foods have less protein and more carbs than I think is ideal for any dog, deliberately choosing a food that is high in carbs and low in protein would make the situation even worse. BTW, I owned Chinese Shar-Pei for 25 years, a breed that is closely related to Chows, and they did extremely well on a very high-protein, low-carb homemade diet.
I am trying to do the calculations over and over to understand if I am wrong! My 7 mo Great Pyrenees weights 31 kg and based on nutritional requirements she should get 2,600 kcal per day that means 7,800 mg of calcium per day…..the bone meal I use has 720 mg per tsp so, that means I have to give my puppy 11 tsp of bone meal Per day. It seems crazy to me but I have been doing the calculations from different sources and it all comes the same. Can someone help me to understand if it’s correct or not, please?
Gabriella, I think your calculations may be a little high. A puppy that weighs 31 kg (68 lbs) should probably get around 2,000-2,300 kcal/day, though it partly depends on how much she is expected to weigh as an adult dog. If you’ve been feeding 2,600 kcal/day and your pup is staying lean, then that would be the right amount to feed, but if she is at all pudgy, I would reduce the amount that you’re feeding so that she stays lean, which is much healthier for her growing joints.
If you pup eats 2,600 kcal daily, then you are correct that she should get 7,800 mg calcium. If 2,000-2,300 kcal/day, she should get 6,000-6,900 mg calcium. Your calculations as to teaspoons are correct.
You may want to consider a different brand of bone meal. Upco bone meal does not state that it has been tested for lead. Other brands may also have more calcium per teaspoon.
NOW Bone Meal Powder has 840 mg calcium per level tsp (2.8 grams) and “is tested for heavy metals such as lead and aluminum to assure the lowest levels possible (though it doesn’t show the actual amount found).
KAL Bone Meal Powder has 1300 mg calcium per rounded tsp (6 grams), but also makes no mention of testing for lead. You could contact the company to ask if it has been tested, but don’t accept verbal assurances, ask to see the report.
You might also consider dicalcium phosphate powder, which doesn’t have the risk of lead contamination. Just be sure the ratio of calcium:phosphorus in the overall product is no higher than 2:1 (so your pup also gets the phosphorus she needs). I found one product that provides 1414 mg per tsp (5.4 grams):
Thank you for this in depth explanation. I started feeding my two dogs (12lb dachshund and 13lb shipoo) a cooked diet mixed with their dry food (royal canin GI low fat).
After much research and much confusion, I landed on giving:
1/4 cup dry food + a small handful of freeze dried chicken for breakfast
1/8 cup dry food + 1 oz cooked protein (ground turkey, ground chicken, ground sirloin) + 1oz vegetables for lunch
And then repeat that for dinner.
(for veggies I use a mix of cooked zucchini, green beans, carrots, sometimes a little bit of sweet potato)
I was giving 1/8 teaspoon of eggshell powder with lunch and 1/16the with dinner but I’m not sure that is the best dosage so I kept the dry food on board hoping it would supplement the calcium/phosphorous requirement and stopped with the eggshell powder (they didn’t seem to like the powder). In this scenario can I just add a multivitamin to their diet?
Any recommendations you have would be GREATLY appreciated! Thank you.
Ariel, do you know how many calories your dogs are each getting from their commercial food? The Royal Canin website says that their GI Low Fat diet contains about 250 kcal/cup:
If you’re using a measuring cup, it appears that each dog is getting 3/8 cup dry food twice a day, or 3/4 cup a day, which would provide a little less than 200 kcal/day. Depending on age and activity level, your dogs likely need at least 300-350 kcal daily, so they may be getting anywhere from 1/2 to 2/3 of their diet from the commercial food.
Assuming they’re both adult dogs, you could probably get away without adding calcium, but it would be safest to add maybe 1/8 tsp (250 mg calcium) eggshell powder daily, split between meals. They likely won’t notice the powder if it’s combined with something wet (have you tried yogurt?).
You could use a multivitamin, but it can be difficult to get the right dosage for small dogs. Supplements made for pets assume you are feeding a complete commercial diet and so will not provide what is missing in a limited homemade diet. And most multis have very little calcium.
Is there a reason you’re using such an extremely low-fat prescription diet? It’s really only appropriate for dogs with severe fat intolerance, usually leading to bouts of pancreatitis. If it’s just for weight loss, see my article for better ideas:
I need to reread your article in detail but at the moment I am freaked out that I am not feeding my 12 week old Australian Shepherd puppy correctly re calcium. I am feeding raw with a variety of proteins and some chicken necks, wings (mostly snacks here) and occasional lamb neck and beef rib as meal replacement. For the proteins without bones I was adding calcium from egg shells (pulverized) to the tune of 1500 mg per 1 lb meat (muscle + organs). I also add about 10% steamed veggies.
I am feeding quantity based on current weight * 8% (avg of 6-10% recommended by raw retailer‘s website). I anticipate his adult weight will be about 50-55 lbs. Today, at twelve weeks he weighed in at 14.6 lbs, which means I am feeding him ~ 530 gr or 1.15 lbs. I thought calcium to phosphorous ratio was to be 1:1…and I thought I was adding calcium, which counterbalanced the phosphorous content of the proteins without bone. This is why I am now very confused…as you say I should not use eggshell but bone meal. I would so appreciate understanding what I am missing here. Many thanks for any additional information you are able to supply.